By now, you've had your fill of top 10, best/worst or highlight/lowlight recaps of how the TV scene went this year. As was the case in 2009, and with all due respect to all the columnists and pundits who follow TV and had plenty to recap, I'm breaking away from the pack and taking a fresh direction.
There's a lot of variety and diversity in what you find on TV now, and they'll be another level of it in 2011, with networks stepping up their original development plans (especially in scripted programming), new services launching like Oprah Winfrey Network, and expanding horizons like 3D, video-on-demand, interactive services and video telephony. However, there's one genre of TV that is on the sidelines in all this activity that deserves a shot next year. Indeed, this genre has been on the sidelines since the early 1970s.
The genre on my mind is the historical drama anthology, series rooted in a rich tapestry of past which shaped our nation and world. Series using drama to offer different takes on the famous mileposts of history, or profile the unsung or unrecognized people and developments who turned corners on our destiny. With all the history and imagination at a producer's disposal, it's the kind of series that never runs out of material.
Some excellent TV programs came from this scripted category in the 1950s, all based on actual events--You Are There (1953-1957), where CBS News correspondents went back in time to cover notable incidents; Cavalcade Of America (1952-1957) adapted from the long-running radio series sponsored by DuPont, and Telephone Time (1956-58), powerful story-behind-the-story situations narrated by noted storyteller John Nesbitt (Passing Parade). And drilling down further, Death Valley Days (1952-1970), the longest-running syndicated drama in TV history, presenting true incidents from the American West.
Two more notable histo-anthologies came out the following decade in The Great Adventure (1963-1964) on CBS, and Profiles In Courage (1964-1965, based on the John F. Kennedy bestseller) for NBC. Both series were dropped after one season despite critical reviews and in Profiles' case, winning the Peabody Award. From there, nothing.
Now that we've given this format a rest of some 40 years, isn't it time--way overdue time--to revive it? How about someone bringing this genre back in a family-friendly, accurate fashion? With all the technology on command, from hand-held cameras, color and HD/3D to computer-generated imagery, history coming to life on a regular TV basis again should look spectacular. And there are plenty of authors and playwrights, not to mention TV writers, chomping at the bit for the chance to spin unique perspectives on how our nation and world has transformed over the centuries.
History Channel would be a perfect place to launch such a series, and if The Kennedys, their upcoming first-ever miniseries drama, does well, their executive mindset might look favorably on approving an anthology. If not, how about it broadcast networks, HBO, Showtime, TNT, A&E or Hallmark Channel? Or some syndication player with gumption; remember Death Valley Days?
Santa, can you hear me about this? Inspire the comeback of history anthology drama next year, so when we turn the corner into 2012, millions of TV viewers see how our country and world came to be...and see the values it can take to shape a greater country and world from 2012 on. When we ring in 2011, I'll complete 30 years as a journalist covering television. What a great ride to witness what's happened over that time, and for that, countless thanks to the editors and editorial colleagues I've worked alongside and learned from, the industry talent I've reported on, and the readers and listeners who've come with me for the journey. The thanks extend to my parents, family and friends who support my taking the journey.
I'm an extremely fortunate person to have this gift, which started giving January 2, 1980. No matter how far I'll get down TV's future from here, be clear it will be a great ride. Enjoy and prosper from a sensational 2011. Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned. Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio/podcast-distributed program about the TV scene. The program runs live Mondays and Fridays at 3 p.m. Eastern time/noon, Pacific time, over BlogTalk Radio (www.blogtalkradio.com); on replay 24/7 at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04, and on podcast from ITunes.com and other Web sites arranged by Sonibyte (www.sonibyte.com). Tomorrow also is available on TiVo and Cable In The Classroom (www.ciconline.org). Have a question or reaction? Reach out to email@example.com
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